'Curious' Cuban net cable has activated, researchers say

Cuban internet users Slow internet download speeds have been a frustration for Cuban internet users

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A high-speed fibre-optic cable connecting Cuba to the global internet appears to have finally been activated, monitoring experts have said.

Cubans currently rely on satellite connections - which are expensive and slow - to get online.

But the cable, which has been in place since 2011, has shown the first signs of activity, Renesys said.

Curiously, researchers noted traffic via the cable seemed only to be flowing into the country, not out of it.

"In the past week, our global monitoring system has picked up indications that this cable has finally been activated, although in a rather curious way," wrote Doug Madory, Renesys' senior researcher.

He explained that in the past week it had been noted that Telefonica, the Spanish telecoms company, had begun appearing in their data for Cuba.

When contacted by the BBC, Telefonica was not able to confirm that the activation had taken place.

But Renesys' data is a strong indicator that the cable is beginning to show signs of life - be it over five years since its original inception.

Improved

A joint project between the state-owned telecommunications companies of both Venezuela and Cuba, the Alternative Bolivariana para los Pueblos de nuestra America cable - known more succinctly as Alba-1 - had been hit by numerous delays before being completed in 2011.

The cable's activation coincided with a change in visa rules

But users were left in the dark as to why they were unable to get themselves hooked up to the connection, and were forced to make do with the high-latency connections provided by satellite.

But in the past week, much lower latencies - meaning faster connections - have been observed in the country, a strong indicator that the cable was now in use.

But Mr Madory stressed: "These aren't exactly low latencies. Our measured latencies to Cuba are still quite high, albeit improved.

"The fact that the latencies to Cuba from many locations around the world have dropped below 480ms [milliseconds] means that the new Telefonica service cannot be entirely via satellite.

"However, if it were solely via submarine cables, we would expect latencies from many nearby countries to be less than 50ms."

Rule changes

Mr Madory speculated that the activation of the cable may be a sign the country is becoming "freer and more open" - particularly as the cable first showed signs of activity on the same day as rules about exit visas were changed.

The BBC has approached the Cuban government on the issue, but it is yet to comment.

Mr Madory went on to say that he did not believe there to be a China-style censorship firewall in place for Cuban internet users.

Yoani Sanchez Dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez writes about life in Cuba under the current government

"In countries where we see latencies are impacted by censorship regimes, we often see a diurnal [daily] pattern in latencies," he said.

"This is due to traffic slowing during busy times when everyone is awake and using the Internet, and the censorship software is struggling to keep up.

"When looking at the distributions of these [Cuban] latencies over time, I see no diurnal pattern."

Despite the country's lacklustre internet, an online community has taken shape in the recent years. Most notably, blogger Yoani Sanchez rose to fame as a dissident blogger who wrote about life in Cuba.

Ms Sanchez used to email blog entries to friends outside of the country to publish online.

Her writing led to her being arrested in October last year as she prepared to cover the trial of politician Angel Carromero.

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